Monday, March 26, 2012

The Flatey Enigma

The Flatey Enigma
Author: Viktor Arnar Ingolfsson (translated from Icelandic by Brian FitzGibbon)
Amazon Crossing, 2012 (originally published 2002 in Iceland)
224 pages

It's 1960 and off the west coast of Iceland, a family hunting seal on the uninhabited island of Ketilsey stumbles upon a decomposing human body. Kjartan, a representative of the district magistrate, is sent from Reykjavik to the nearby island of Flatey to identify the body. There he finds a harsh environment and several quirky characters, including an elderly man with dementia, a man who sees fairies, and a reclusive female doctor.

Flatey is also home to an ancient Icelandic saga called The Flatey Book, which contains an unsolved puzzle known as The Flatey Enigma. When the dead man turns out to be a Danish researcher whose life's work revolved around unlocking the puzzle, the plot thickens. But it gets even more thick when another stranger turns up mutilated in the cemetery.

Kjartan transitions from investigator to cryptographer as the mysteries are uncovered. There are more twists and turns in The Flatey Enigma than there are fjords in Iceland, and each of them has credibility. It's almost like three different stories sometimes: 1) the murder mysteries; 2) the historic tales of the saga; and 3) the incredible descriptions of daily island life and survival.

The Flatey Enigma is a solid crime thriller, but it's much more than that. It's magical. My resolve to go to Iceland has been strengthened, and my attraction to the northern isles is now more intense than ever.